By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) When Gabe Carimi was notified of his demotion to the bench last week, the second-year offensive lineman was obviously disappointed.
“It can’t be easy, especially a young guy like that,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. “I think his career, he got injured and then he came in and played well at times, had some tough times, had some growing pains, so to get sent down like that I think it was tough on him at first.”
So Cutler and offensive line coach Mike Tice sat down with him to keep him upbeat. They felt like he needed a break. And while fellow lineman Chilo Rachal reacted to a similar demotion by storming out of Halas Hall, Carimi stayed positive.
Only one of them handled the situation the right way.
Rachal found himself on the non-injury reserve list, while Carimi ended right back on the playing field by Sunday. He went down as a tackle and emerged as a guard.
“Maybe this is his position, I don’t know,” Cutler said.
Carimi performed well while playing guard for the first time in his life and all indications point to him starting Sunday’s game against the Seahawks at the same position. The Bears lost starting right guard Lance Louis to a season ending knee injury Sunday and left guard Chris Spencer’s status is in doubt after he also suffered a knee injury in the win over the Vikings.
Asked Wednesday if he’s the starting right guard this week, Carimi said: “Yeah, as of now. That’s where it is.”
Meanwhile, if Spencer can’t go on the left side this week, Edwin Williams will get the start at the other guard position. Spencer did not practice Wednesday.
“If Gabe has to play, it’s not like he hasn’t been playing all year. He has a good feel and Edwin has played in there before for us so we’ll just see how it goes,” the quarterback said.
Well, it can’t go any worse. After the offensive line was torched by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 11, it came back and put together one of its better performances of the season against the Vikings despite Rachal leaving the team mid-week and two starters going down during the game.
In fact, there’s a chance Carimi’s move inside could benefit the Bears’ inconsistent running game. While he’s had an up-and-down year in pass protection, Carimi has been an effective run blocker and proved his value Sunday as an extra blocker in short yardage situations before he was forced inside to guard. He also made the key block on a fake extra point, when holder Adam Podlesh ran it in for two. Carimi’s presence inside could be a boost for Matt Forte and Michael Bush up the middle.
“It couldn’t hurt I guess,” Cutler said. “We’ll see how he does. He stepped in there and did a nice job for us. Hopefully.”
Meanwhile, the Bears have brought in veteran depth with the signing of Andre Gurode, a five-time Pro-Bowl center who will give the Bears plenty of options should he be healthy. He had his knee scoped before training camp this year and the Baltimore Ravens weren’t willing to wait on him. Now he says his right knee feels better than it did before.
Gurode could be used at guard or at center with Roberto Garza moving back to guard, but Bears fans shouldn’t get too excited about seeing Gurode on game day yet. He admitted Wednesday that he doesn’t know very much about the Bears’ system at this point.
“I really don’t. Honestly, it’s all brand new to me so I’ll go into this situation completely open and listening and taking in everything these guys say. And just get prepared and ready to play,” the 10-year veteran said.
It will help that Gurode has two friends on the offensive line already. He knows Garza well and he trains with right tackle Jonathan Scott in the offseason. The two live near each other in Dallas.
Scott said he anticipates Gurode is already in game shape, but he’ll need to catch up on the playbook.
“The verbiage is the hard part,” Scott, who also joined the Bears after the season started, said. “Understanding the game is pretty much the same. Verbiage takes a little time but we’re willing to do extra. That’s what’s necessary. I know he’s going to put in the extra work after hours to get the verbiage down. He’s a smart guy. He’ll catch on quick.”
Still, don’t expect him to be ready this week. Instead, the Bears are likely to go on with a patchwork offensive line — one with a guard that hardly has any reps at the position. It’s a line that can’t really be worse, but it’s also one that will need to keep it simple.
“We just got to be careful on what we ask those guys to do,” Cutler said. “Make sure they are all on the same page and protect them. You don’t want to throw a lot of (seven-step drops) and chuck the ball 40-50 times. They’re not programmed for that. They’re in new positions, some guys haven’t even played guard so we just got to be smart with it.”
And it’s not too often a quarterback has to look over the top of a 6-foot-7 guard, which will be the case with Carimi in there.
“I don’t care if he’s 6-10,” Cutler said. “If he does his job, I’ll find a way.”
Of course, finding a way is nothing new for Cutler.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.